Diana Ayoub, Ottawa woman who inspired 1957 Anka hit, dead at 83

Diana Ayoub, the Ottawa woman who inspired Paul Anka's 1957 hit Diana when the two were still teenagers, has died. She was 83.

Ayoub spoke of complicated relationship with teen idol's song Diana

A young Paul Anka and Diana Ayoub at the piano shortly after the release of Anka's first big hit Diana in 1957. Four decades later, Ayoub told CBC she first heard about the song from a friend. (Toronto Star file photo)

Diana Ayoub, the Ottawa woman who inspired Paul Anka's 1957 hit Diana when the two were still teenagers, has died. She was 83.

Despite the song's opening line, "I'm so young and you're so old," Ayoub was barely 18 when Anka, then nearly 16, recorded it in New York. Diana would top the charts for weeks, selling millions of copies and making Anka a household name.

"I didn't expect it to be that huge," Ayoub told CBC four decades later. "It was all over the world, you know, I could go nowhere. I was followed by peeping toms, it was pretty wild."

The two had met through Ottawa's vibrant Lebanese community where Anka used to entertain at church events. In his 2013 autobiography, the singer referred to Ayoub as his "teen crush," putting to rest the long-standing myth that she had been his babysitter.

From Ayoub's perspective, however, it was still a one-sided affair.

"I absolutely didn't have a clue," she told CBC in 1997. "I encouraged him a great deal and thought we were just friends."

Diana Ayoub, the Ottawa woman who inspired the 1957 Paul Anka hit named after her, died Dec. 1. She was 83. (Beechwood)

A flair for fashion

Ayoub was born in Ottawa on March 13, 1939, to Salim and Mary Ayoub. Her early years revolved around her community, her church and her family's restaurant.

"Being the daughter of small business owners, Diana grew up self-sufficient, resilient, and hard-working; qualities that would carry her through the rest of her life," according to her online obituary.

After graduating from Ottawa's High School of Commerce, Ayoub embarked on a career in the travel industry and moved to Montreal, where she met Dr. Pierre Tremblay and had two sons, Pierre and Marc.

The October Crisis of 1970 prompted the young family to return to Ottawa, where Ayoub opened Diana's Boutique, "introducing the women of Ottawa to the fashions of Europe and New York."

When fire destroyed her beloved business, she embarked on a second career in real estate while continuing to manage various retail fashion outlets.

"One of her greatest talents and joys was dressing women in clothing in which they would never have pictured themselves. They always left her shop feeling like a million bucks," according to her obituary.

A complicated legacy

Friends and family remember Ayoub for her generosity, empathy, self-reliance and unwavering work ethic, principles that guided her in motherhood as much as they did in business.

"When a friend suggested once that she might be too demanding of her boys, she responded, 'I'm not raising boys, I'm raising men,'" according to Ayoub's obituary.

Ayoub said she and Anka stayed in touch over the years, and she saw him perform Diana several times. (She was invited to Anka's 1957 performance of the song on the Ed Sullivan Show, but didn't attend.) 

In interviews, Ayoub hinted that her own relationship with Diana was more complicated than many, including Anka, suspected.

"Paul has no idea how much that song affected my life," she told the Ottawa Citizen in 1991. "I got all the notoriety and none of the benefits."

In 1997, Ayoub told CBC that after the song came out, dating was practically impossible because there were always reporters lurking.

"The exposure was so widespread that I really hid from it at that time," she said.

But Ayoub also knew that the jaunty tune about a lovelorn teen beseeching the object of his affection to "please stay by me" had struck a sweet chord with millions, and recalled the phones lighting up when she made a special guest appearance on a friend's radio show.

"People called in telling stories about how they had met during the song, and all of the memories that they had, so it's nice, very nice," she told CBC.

Diana Ayoub spent her final days at May Court Hospice in the Old Ottawa South area. She died Dec. 1.

From 1997 archival tape, Diana Ayoub shares what it was like to be the recognizable face behind the song